Yala has won the laurels that adorned Wilpattu and is now the national park with the highest density of the Sri Lankan Leopard. Called Panthera pardus kotiya, our local subspecies is bigger than leopards found elsewhere. Also, Sri Lanka offers more opportunities to observe this elusive, solitary animal than other destinations.
This habit of making itself rare is one reason why it is every safari-goer’s dream. The other reasons are its elegance, beauty, shrewdness and the air of mystery it conveys. Because it has no competition, the Sri Lankan leopard is monarch of all it surveys. The best time to watch it hunting would be at night. With superb eyesight, the leopard prefers the darkness to maul and kill its favourite prey of deer, sambur, boar or monkey.
But of course, few people would like the idea of losing sleep following the feline on its all- night hunt for food, with very poor chances of getting good pictures. Dawn or dusk would be most suited for the perfect portrait of a leopard: having its fill at a pool, slender neck extended, eyes still alert, his golden skin with black rosettes glowing; or, if you are very lucky, a shot mid-hunt or while feasting on a carcass. But at daytime, it’s generally lazy, and you’ll find it under a shady rocky outcrop or a large tree, or draped over a tree branch.
In Yala, Block 1, young leopards are frequently met with. Being less elusive than adults, they do not take pains to hide, though they will learn the survival tricks growing up. Both male and female adults have home ranges, and mark important areas of their range. If other leopards and intruders invade their territories, the leopard is known to give a raspy cough of sorts, often called ‘sawing’ because it resembles noise of wood being sawn.
The female leopard is the better hunter, while the male leopard is not above scavenging, feeding on kills made by females. The female has to look after her young till they reach up to 16 to 24 months. A family taking a siesta on a rock would make the perfect picture.